Facebook, suffering & history
How to start a Love Revolution in the age of Trump
Recently I had a bad Facebook fight with a dear family member. Yes, it was bad, and yes, it was an actual fight (as opposed to an argument.) I categorize it as a fight because we both drew blood (as in: slashed each other’s hearts out.) And, as a result, we both ended up crying. I don’t know many people who haven’t engaged in a Facebook fight (or at least wanted to) in this current divisive political climate. This particular fight started like most such Facebook fights — she posted something that she considered a starting point for thoughtful discussion on Trump’s Travel ban. I have a middle eastern husband and three mixed race kids and found her post offensive, and told her so. She said she didn’t understand why I would find it offensive and that America has become a “bunch of whiners.” Her response to my post resulted in me experiencing a fit of apoplexy (bleeding from the brain, loss of consciousness and paralysis) and made me cry. Several hours later, when I was able to calm down, I posted what I considered a thoughtful response to her response, explaining how I experience those who support Trump. I said that I felt as if those on the right base their decisions on a mindset of “fear and separation.” (And, if I remember correctly, I may have given some examples — like voting against welfare, and gay rights, etc.) She, in turn, found my post extremely offensive, and said I didn’t understand her at all, and that she would go have a good cry. Later, I did try to post what I hoped was a heartfelt apology. But I’m almost 100% sure she didn’t receive it as such (neither heartfelt, nor apology) — and, we haven’t talked since. I guess it’s a minor miracle that we didn’t unfriended each other then and there. I’m practicing gratitude for small blessings.
I know I’m not alone in this experience of feeling deeply separated from close loved ones by the current political climate. One friend, a staunch liberal and active Hillary supporter, argues frequently with her Trump supporting brother. Another friend, an artist who moved to the U.S. from Australia, gets a lot of Facebook grief from her conservative relatives who feel Trump is doing a good job for the country. As an Australian, she can’t even vote here, and yet she is stricken with worry and anxiety about what this president means for America and the world. She is also hurt and saddened by her relatives who don’t understand her deep emotions.
This Australian friend is Deborah Rhee, an accomplished painter and visual artist with a sizeable following in the Bay Area, Texas (where she lived for several years) and Australia. Deborah, who also goes by Deb, became so distraught over the nasty turn many of her Facebook conversations were taking after Trump was elected. She had mourned along with her liberal community. Her heart broke as I shared my worry for my husband and our children because of Trump’s travel ban, and this new culture of heightened racism. Deb longed to do something that might start to bring people together. She decided that she could help share and seed love and healing through the one thing she held dear and revered above almost everything else — art. Deb is a painter, who believes in the metaphysical properties of art and painting. “While I paint, I imagine the images that I’m creating, providing healing to the final recipient of my art. While I’m working, I can feel love coming through me, and onto the canvas.” You can absolutely see this magic sparkling in her works — they are so luminous and alive. You can almost feel the beating heart, and see the subtle breathing just under the surface.
Deb decided that she would create tiny art pieces — smaller than an index card — they are about 2" x 4" and she calls them Tiny Talisman. The dictionary defines a Talisman as, “An object, typically an inscribed ring or stone, that is thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck.” Deb’s Talisman do seem to have magic powers. They are tiny miniatures of her bigger pieces — each one is unique and deeply layered with colors and splotches, supported throughout by that amazing luminosity.
Once Deb started on the project, there was no stopping her. She spent hours upon hours in her nighttime studio, pouring herself and her energies into carefully crafting hundreds of these Talisman paintings.
Deb wanted her Talismen to touch many hearts. She wanted them to be seen and felt as a token of love that was above politics and deeper than words. These little works would transcend everything, even our most tightly held beliefs. Deb feels that art exists on another plane of being — one where humans understand that heart and soul and love are the very essence of existence — and truly, nothing else matters.
Deb’s paintings look like miniature maps of the cosmos. If you are very still, and very present, you can catch a glimpse of the vastness that is contained within each one.
On the back of each Talisman piece Deb pasted a message:
I’m a Tiny Talisman on a mission to seed love all over the world. Take me home, log on to our FB group: R-evol-u-tion or Instagram: Revolution_artwithheart and help record my journey, then send me out into the world for another to find!
ART with HEART!
Each Tiny Talisman was hand signed and numbered. Very carefully and deliberately, Deb placed her Talismen, first in an envelope that was inscribed with the words, “For you with love.” Then, they were placed in a delicate gauze bag and tied with a silky ribbon. Deb gave bunches of these preciously wrapped gifts-of-love to her friends and asked them to distribute them around town. She imagined the Tiny Talisman ending up in unlikely places, where they would be discovered by people going about their daily lives. Maybe someone would be at the coffee shop, adding sugar to their latte and spy the gauzy package next to the stir sticks; or they might be pushing their baby’s stroller down the walking trail and see a flash of color twirling from a shiny ribbon, hanging from an oak tree; or maybe they’d be at the library and discover one tucked between a stack of books.
Deb’s hope was that people would be struck with surprise and pleasure at the good fortune of stumbling across this kind of tiny treasure. She imagined that finding an extraordinary gift among a very ordinary setting, might be a way to meet people where they lived. She thought that no matter what someone’s political affiliations, religion, gender identity or world-view, that finding one of these little works of art might cause their hearts to crack wide open, melting their defenses at the recognition of something precious and special, offered very genuinely from the heart. By asking people to pass it on, Deb hoped to spread good feelings from one, to another, and another and another. In this way the Talisman would be rippling out into the world, touching hundreds, then thousands — maybe even millions! Deb wanted this to be the beginning of a kind of LOVE Revolution — where people could believe in human connection through the generous sharing of love tokens in the form of art. She called the group’s Facebook page: R-evol-u-tion — because love is at the heart. The word Revolution contains the word “love” and the letter “u,” as in “you.” As if she was saying: YOU are the key to the love revolution, and art is at the heart of personal connections and deeper understanding.
I was in the first group of friends that Deb shared her new project with. She brought a box full of the Tiny Talisman packages to our Wednesday evening women’s group. As she explained her idea and the process, and asked each of us to act as her emissaries, she was literally quaking with nervous and excited energy. Deb was giddy as she instructed us on how to leave the Talisman around town, and then log our activity on the Revolution Facebook page. Her enthusiasm was contagious and each of us felt like we were embarking on an important mission as we carried our packages of Tiny Talisman out into the night.
Dutifully, I took mine and ran around town. I spent the next morning visiting all of my favorite cafes, leaving the gauzy bundles on empty chairs and coffee counters. I left a few on our local walking trail and on the school playground. I imagine the other ladies did the same. We logged our activity on the Facebook page and posted pictures of ourselves with the art pieces, noting the number, and where we acquired it.
And then we waited.
Who would be finding our little bundles? How would it change their day? Would they smile at the word “love” on the envelope? Would their hearts jump at the beauty of the Tiny Talisman? Would they read with interest about the Facebook page, until curiosity got the best of them and they’d visit the site to see who found the others, learning about where they might travel next?
Days went by without a word, until a kind retired lady posted about how she found one by a swing when she was out with her granddaughter. It was a lovely moment! Someone found a Tiny Talisman and recorded the event, acknowledging the connection — the Love Revolution was beginning!
Soon there were reports of artists in Australia and Texas taking up the call! They were creating their version of Tiny Talismen and distributing them throughout their own towns. Groups of children were making them at parties, and other groups were using the idea for workshops. The idea of Revolution through tiny art pieces was absolutely appealing to other artists and creatives.
Deb shared the story of a friend who took a few Tiny Talisman with her when she attended the women’s march. This lady felt moved to approach a young Muslim woman who was wearing a headscarf. As she handed her the Tiny Talisman For-you-with-love package, she said, “I’d like to give this to you, as a token of love and acceptance, and to let you know that we’re glad you’re here.” Both women smiled, and then they hugged each other.
I liked this idea. I created a couple of Tiny Talisman, drawing on my little cards in my own silly, cartoon style. I wrote a short letter to accompany mine. My letter said:
I don’t know you, but I love you. You are a beautiful being worthy of all good things. The current political climate in our country is so unsettling; people are divided like never before. I am writing in the hopes that you will join us in our Love Revolution. Please, help us spread love and connection and healing. It is our hope that this kind of sharing will have the potential to begin to bridge this great divide. Please join us! Visit our Facebook page.
First I handed one to a college student who sat across from me on BART (our public transportation system in the San Francisco Bay Area). The second one I handed to a young black girl as I exited the train. “This is for you,” I said. Both of these girls looked at me with such skepticism. Later, I tried to imagine how those girls perceived me. I’m sure their thoughts ran something like: “Crazy white lady thinks she can change the world!”
Needless to say, they didn’t visit the Facebook page.
One sunny day I walked down our local bike trail. I hung a Tiny Talisman on one of the center poles that marks the entrance to a new section of trail. Then I went and sat on a nearby bench to watch and see what would happen. A man came by and noticed the small bag fluttering. He pulled it off and read the note as he walked. I could see his face furrow in worry or confusion. He stuffed the tiny art piece back in the bag and dropped it furtively onto the trail. Soon a group of ladies came by. They were walking at a fast pace, looking at each other, engrossed in their conversation. One of them glanced with curiosity at the white gauzy package laying on the ground, she hesitated only for a split second, before she looked back at her friends and kept marching down the trail, pretending not to notice the wayward gift. Later, a boy on a bike nearly ran over it. Then a group of young runners didn’t even blink as they jogged right passed. When it got run over for a second time, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the middle of the trail, rescued the tiny fellow and hung it up on the pole again. I watched it for awhile longer, but no one removed it. It was disappointing. Not a single person that day had time for a lovely surprise to speak to their hearts. Several days later I returned to the trail and saw the little bag still waving in the breeze. By then, hundreds of people would have passed it. Many would have seen it, certainly a few would have touched it, but no one took it. Love was hanging there — waiting. No one had time.
I felt so bad. I couldn’t tell Deb. However, I was quite certain that she was also realizing that the Love Revolution wasn’t unfolding according to her plan. It broke my heart. She had such good intentions. She invested so much of her heart into this — only to have her gifts of love literally trampled on. This situation left me feeling like a spurned lover. Tentatively, tremulously we offered our love — creating art and messages and invitations to join a movement, only to have them rejected.
I didn’t talk to Deb about it. I couldn’t face her eagerness with my personal feelings of rejection. After my Facebook fight, I had held out hope that this quiet art revolution might offer a form of healing. In a way, it does — for the ladies in our group, for me and Deb and for those artists who are creating the Tiny Talisman and passing them out in their communities. It feels good to be doing something positive and pure. But it is also sometimes disappointing that our efforts at connecting are met with great skepticism; that the art with heart isn’t understood or appreciated at the level we thought it might. People seem to not have the time or the interest to join something called a Love Revolution.
After reflecting, I realize that we are all experiencing a collective mass misunderstanding. Most of us are too caught up in our own suffering, to have room to see much of anything else. When I had my Facebook fight, I wanted my cousin to see and validate my suffering. When she didn’t, I lashed out, and in turn, refused to see hers. Politics becomes so deeply emotional and painful because each of us wants the other side to understand their own personal brand of suffering. Our arguments and fights are like each of us holding up our hurts and saying, “Look at me, I’m suffering, and my suffering is worse than yours.” By doing this, we hope that we’ll be truly seen by the other, or at least acknowledged. My cousin accused me of not knowing what it’s like “to be in her shoes.” And of course I don’t. And it is absolutely true that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see it. My ears were closed to her suffering. This was wrong on my part. It’s not a contest. Suffering is suffering. Refusing to see another’s suffering while trying to highlight our own will only lead to more broken and bleeding hearts.
Tich Nat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writes extensively on the nature of suffering. He says, “The fact is, that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides.” This is exactly the nature of Facebook fights, and basically any misunderstanding that arises in our lives. We feel uncomfortable, and in our discomfort we engage in more hurtful behavior. Tich Nat Hahn explains further, “When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.” I admit, it took some time before I was able to see or admit that my cousin was also suffering. I think most of us feel that our suffering is somehow unique or special, and we hold on to it, because it is ours. Tich Nat Hahn expounds further: “People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore.” I am working on releasing my views. This is very hard work — probably one of the hardest things there is.
In regards to the healing of suffering Tich Nat Hahn says: “Let us not just say, ‘I love him very much,’ but instead, ‘I will do something so that he will suffer less.’ The mind of compassion is truly present when it is effective in removing another person’s suffering.”
My friend Deb is using her “mind of compassion” in her wish to share art as a means of bringing joy to others. She wants to reduce the suffering present in the world. She wants to start a revolution with love and art at the heart. The dictionary defines revolution as: A dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it.
The Art with Heart Love Revolution might not be dramatic, or wide reaching, but it is changing the way something works. It is using Facebook as a platform for sharing art and love and ideas and good intentions, instead of a place for political bashing. For those of us who are taking part, we’re involved in something good. It is a movement that takes our minds off of our petty worries, and it focuses us on creating a little piece of delight in another person’s day. We do this in the hope that our small acts, might, even in the smallest of ways, reduce someone else’s suffering.
I think it’s interesting that our Tiny Talisman Love Revolution took place the same year, in the same general locale (the Bay Area) as the 50th Anniversary of The Summer of Love in San Francisco. It was exactly fifty years ago that thousands of young people, from all over the world, converged on San Francisco with a wish to join a countercultural Love Movement. 1967 was a year, both politically and socially, that was very much like 2017. The president was unpopular — many people were upset with Lyndon B Johnson for his handling of the Vietnam war. Protests were happening all over the country. In addition, there were several, large and prolonged race riots that followed police shootings of unarmed black men. Young people were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the current systems and San Francisco offered a new kind of reality where people shared everything — love, drugs, art and music. At the heart of the movement was a desire to achieve a higher consciousness for humanity. The radical idealism of this particular group could only be sustained throughout that short summer of 1967. Eventually, the college students had to return back to school and the large groups disappeared. Outside of the California Bay Area the hippie movement, and this Free Love Society, was largely misunderstood.
Fifty years ago, a group of young people, artists, poets and musicians tried to stage a Love Revolution in San Francisco. In 2017, a small group of artists and well-meaning women, hoped to share art and spread love in revolutionary ways. Both movements were reacting to the political divisiveness of unjust systems that cause suffering for so many people. Both were trying to imagine a reality where love could be shared freely and offered unconditionally. Both were met with skepticism and misunderstanding. How do you start a Love Revolution when so many can’t see past their own suffering? How do you start a Love Revolution when so many are so skeptical of other’s intentions? How do you start a Love Revolution in the age of Trump?
How do WE start a Love Revolution?